February 27th, 2013
09:24 PM ET
1 year ago

Exchange between Bob Woodward and White House official in spotlight

(CNN) - An email exchange between two old Washington hands – one, a longtime journalist, and the second, a source in the Obama administration – is at the center of a political controversy Thursday as two sides read the messages differently.

The veteran journalist is Bob Woodward, who broke the Watergate scandal and wrote a book about the debt ceiling negotiations in the summer of 2011. The Obama administration source is Gene Sperling, a senior economic aide to President Barack Obama and a veteran of the Clinton administration.

Gene Sperling will be Candy Crowley's guest on CNN's State of the Union, which runs Sunday at 9 a.m. and noon Eastern.

They traded emails, Woodward said, as he prepared to report that President Barack Obama was "moving the goal posts" around the forced spending cuts, known as the sequester.

That irked the White House, he said Wednesday on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer," and led to the email exchange between Woodward and Sperling.

"They're not happy at all," with what he was reporting, Woodward said.

"It was said very clearly, 'You will regret doing this,' " he continued, intimating a threat.

Politico published the emails on Thursday, which a Democrat with knowledge of identified as between Woodward and Sperling. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney did not dispute that the published emails were accurate.

The part of the email from Sperling to Woodward that used the word "regret" said: "But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying [sic] that [Obama] asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim."

"The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand barain [sic] with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start."

The two were trading words over the deal White House and Congress struck in the summer of 2011, an agreement to increase the federal debt limit in exchange for the spending cuts – a draconian measure which was never expected to take effect but are now set to trigger on Friday. Instead, the forced spending cuts were designed to incentivize further deficit negotiations.

Woodward reported that the White House was agreeing with the forced spending cuts to negotiate in the future a deal which replaced the broad and indiscriminate spending cuts in the sequester with more palatable cuts and without additional funds through tax increases.

Obama has stumped for a sequester replacement which balances spending cuts with additional tax revenue gained through eliminating tax loopholes.

"[W]hen the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts," Woodward wrote in an op-ed published by The Washington Post late last week.

"His call for a balanced approach is reasonable, and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more. But that was not the deal he made."

He spoke by phone with Sperling, a conversation which was apparently heated.

After the email from Sperling, which included an apology for the sharp phone call, Woodward wrote back not taking offense, "You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion."

A White House official said Wednesday evening – after the CNN interview – that the email Woodward referenced "was sent to apologize for voices being raised in their previous conversation. The note suggested that Mr. Woodward would regret the observation he made regarding the sequester because that observation was inaccurate, nothing more. And Mr. Woodward responded to this aide's email in a friendly manner."

"Of course no threat was intended" in that email, the official said.

And former Obama adviser David Axelrod tweeted that the e-mails were "cordial."

But Woodward said on CNN that the White House objection to his reporting has no basis in facts.

"It's irrefutable. That's exactly what happened," he said. "I'm not saying this is a moving of the goal posts that was a criminal act or something like that. I'm just saying that's what happened."

Carney spoke about the emails specifically and the Obama administration's approach to working with the press on Thursday, saying "the president expects us to fully explain his policies, to answer questions about his positions and to make clear when we believe factual errors are being stated, which is what we do."

"Gene Sperling, in keeping with a demeanor I have been familiar with for more than twenty years, was incredibly respectful, referred to Mr. Woodward as his friend and apologized for raising his voice," Carney said. "I think you can not read those emails and come away with the impression that Gene was threatening anybody."

Also see:

– Spending cuts mean Congress is grounded from military planes

–Congressional Republicans discussing plan giving Obama flexibility on cuts

– Polls: Obama holds upper hand over budget cuts

– Immigration detainee release under fire

Watch The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer weekdays at 4pm to 6pm ET and Saturdays at 6pm ET. For the latest from The Situation Room click here.


Filed under: Bob Woodward • Budget • Deficit • President Obama • TV-The Situation Room • White House
soundoff (1,002 Responses)
  1. Jason

    Here is the email from Gene Sperling AND Woodwards response. Sounds like he was really terrified, doesn't it? The two have known each other for decades and this sounded like Gene was apologizing(which Woodward accepted in his response!!) and was warning him as a friend that he would regret reporting this when all facts come out. Read it without the Tea Party Goggles and tell me in it's entire context that this is a threat. The "media" ought to be ashamed the way this is being reported out of context. Woodward has officially turned into a joke.

    Gene's Email

    Bob:
    I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall — but feel on the other hand that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here.

    But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim.

    Woodward's response was:
    Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I know you lived all this. My partial advantage is that I talked extensively with all involved. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3 pm today. Best, Bob

    February 28, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  2. Nelson Colorado Springs Co

    Why is House Speaker John Boehner, Congress, Senate and House of Representatives, journalist Bob Woodward blaming President Obama administration for this MESS Congress passed this BILL. Go President Obama

    February 28, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  3. Machiavelli

    This is a made up story when you see the actual language in the e-mail:

    "But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim ... My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize." -Sperling

    The e-mail exchange is making its rounds on plenty of other news sites for those curious to read it.

    February 28, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  4. Ralph Celi

    WH is silent about this; they better pronounce, this can be floating in the air forever, speak up.

    February 28, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  5. MaryM

    Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, sent the email Woodward cited.

    Woodward and Sperling have known one another for decades, dating back to the time Sperling served as a top economic adviser in various posts during the Clinton administration.
    Sperling told Woodward that he would be sorry, Because Woodward was wrong. Not a threat there at all

    February 28, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  6. let the spin begin

    And so the spin begins for both sides of the aisle. The sequester was Obama's plan all along (according to this article it's something they have admitted).

    Yet, they are trying to blame the GOP for it...that's a sketchy move if it's true...

    February 28, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  7. kindness

    Woodward is in need of a very long vacation. It seems he wants to be the center of attention even when that attention isn't positive.

    February 28, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  8. CB

    Context, Context, Context! Let's hear the entire conversation.

    February 28, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  9. Sly

    Sounds like politics. I believe that is why we call them politicians and elected officials. They negotiate over things like budgets, and usually there are differing opinions.

    Ironic, but as a liberal, I agree with the Tea Partiers that indeed, we should make these budget cuts and start to balance the budget.

    Obviously our military spending is corrupt, fat, wastefull: We spend more than the rest of the world COMBINED!

    Cut cut cut. Sequestor Sequestor Sequestor. We don't need those $5000 toilet seats that McDonaldDouglas charges us taxpayers.

    February 28, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  10. Joan

    To tell Woodward he would regret publishing was not a threat!!! It was a true statement!!! The man is a maniac!!!

    February 28, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  11. Nodack

    Just more political BS. Making cuts and raising revenue is moving the goal posts? I don't get it. I call doing both getting the job done. I am so sick of politics. It's worse than watching soap operas and kind of reminds me of basketball flopping. Everybody is flopping all over the court trying to draw a foul without caring about the game. Its all flopping and people whining to get a call from the refs because they want to foul the other team out of the game.

    February 28, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  12. Jef

    Woodward needs to quit whinning and just do his job as a journalist – in the past he has certainly dealt it out. Anything to get on television...

    February 28, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  13. WachetAuf

    Such fragile egos. Anything other than blowing smoke up their asses is an insult. These e-mails were between long time friends. Get over it. Or pick a new set of friends.

    The President was not the only party to the negotiations. he would have to pass any proposals along to his democratic caucus for their approval. Does anyone know what kind of deal can be made in Washington before it becomes law by passage in the House and Senate?

    February 28, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    If I seem a bit perturbed about this article, that's because I never never never thought the Bigotry toward this President could ever, in a million years, go this FAR, & even I am in a state of shock by this one!!

    I repeat, since when does some news journalist, TOP the status of the POTUS?

    February 28, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  15. sambell

    after reading your last 3 books i have some advice–retire! stop trying to make yourself relevant without a story to tell! it's awful when narcissistic tendencies take over. you used to be one of the best reporters, but those days are gone. retire while a big chunk of society still reveres you.

    February 28, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    Why would any adminstration allow Woodward near it?

    February 28, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  17. Junebug

    Typical of the media to put a spin on it, as if Woodward was receiving a coldly calculated threat. I'm sure the spin machine went wild on that one. It's obvious that what was said to him by Sperling was his own personal speculation, as opposed to a threat. The hoopla over this is ridiculous, as are those who took what was completely taken out of context and ran with it.

    February 28, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  18. Pander Bear

    Bob Woodward is a fading journalist who is now reduced to the stature of Matt Drudge. Just retire already instead of making crap up, Bob.

    February 28, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  19. Bill D.

    The White House is just sore because the Sequester was their idea to get a tax hike, which they got, but now they want yet another tax hike, which they're not going to get, and they're going to eat some crow.

    February 28, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  20. Ordinary Average American

    I can't stand to listen to Bob Woodward drone on and on and on . . . he should thank his lucky stars that Forrest Gump stayed in that hotel across from the Watergate!

    February 28, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  21. JD

    Woodard is an idiot that works for CNN! Who cares what lies he's ready to spin to try and get a story. He didn't have any real facts so he came up with this.

    February 28, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  22. twophad

    HUFFINGTON POST released a transcript of the e-mails. Um...Mr. Woodward, it doesn't sound threatening–the guy was apologizing for raising his voice to you. And all of this implies a whole lot of access to this administration for you.

    February 28, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  23. Ken

    I read the memo. Where is the threat? Sounds like advise you give a friend about to perform a jackass stunt. "You're gonna regret that Howie"

    February 28, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  24. massoud

    The Imperial President and his Chicago Thugs are at it again, What a utter disgrace Obama and his Administration are and not to mention the fawning MSM that gets bent for the Tyrant.

    February 28, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  25. Jonathan in Atlanta

    Bob, you just crossed over from being a real journalist, to being a commentator. Nothing more, nothing less.

    February 28, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
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